Venetia Thompson says that the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment does work that nobody else can and constructs homes that buck current property market trends
Robin Hood famously robbed from the rich to give to the poor, but I am certain that he never suggested that the poor should then be crammed into tower blocks like battery chickens in the name of Modernist architecture until they were finally stabbed to death in a deserted stairwell. There is nothing truly egalitarian about the ironically named Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, east London — except the equality of squalor. It is no surprise that most of its 400 residents want the 1972 monstrosity torn down and replaced with something vaguely inhabitable.
However — wouldn’t you know it? — Modernist architects are campaigning to save it. Zaha Hadid describes it as ‘a seminal project of socially responsible architecture from the era of Utopian thinking’. Maybe she should go and live there herself. This is a prime example of the desire for impractical ‘modernity’ getting in the way of common sense and human well-being. The structure deserves to be torn to the ground. As Quinlan Terry warned in 1987, ‘such is the fate of any art that places technique before beauty, and means before ends’.
As a social housing estate Robin Hood Gardens has failed; it is a perfect example of the type of rotten-walled, antisocial developments that the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment hopes will not define the architectural future of this country. Thankfully, the Prince of Wales has yet to be ‘felled in the prime of life by a piece of rotting concrete descending from a post-modernist building’, as he feared he might be in his 1989 book A Vision of Britain.